A double from Jermaine Beckford, including a screamer from half way, and a Joe Garner penalty sealed a 3-0 win for Preston at Deepdale and ended Chesterfield’s hopes of reaching the League One play-off final.
The Spireites were forced in to one change when it materialised goalkeeper Tommy Lee wouldn’t recover from an ankle injury sustained in Thursday night’s first leg at the Proact Stadium and, without a fit reserve option, an emergency loan was made for Huddersfield stopper Joe Murphy.
Opponents Preston made two changes to their line-up as Neil Kilkenny and Calum Woods replaced Scott Laird and Chris Humphrey. Simon Grayson’s Lilywhites held a slender advantage from the first play-off semi-final and both managers had spoken about the next goal’s importance.
And it was Chesterfield who came within inches of getting that next goal in the tie when Sam Clucas, adopting a wider position with Ollie Banks the focal point in attack, who nipped in ahead of John Welsh and Bailey Wright, but his touch took him away from goal and dragged his shot narrowly wide of the post.
Banks’ inclusion caused the home side problems, aerially and on the floor, as Gary Roberts, Jay O’Shea and Clucas roamed in front of Jimmy Ryan and captain Sam Morsy. Where the Spireites were a little tentative out the traps in the first leg it was Preston’s turn in the second.
The hosts looked to get the ball up to their front two at every turn and when Garner flicked on for strike partner Beckford back to goal. The former Leeds man went to ground under the presence of Sam Hird but referee Andy D’Urso rightly remained unmoved. He would keep his feet next time.
Murphy, in the Spireites goal, was forced in to his first save of the match midway through the first half when Paul Gallagher tried a curler from 20 yards that was easily scooped up by the on loan keeper. Ian Evatt and Garner were locked in a battle throughout the first half and both were soon in the book.
The Preston striker led with an elbow and caught Evatt in the face before the former Blackpool defender returned the compliment moments later in another aerial duel between the two. It ignited the fuse around Deepdale, as if there needed to be an excuse with a place at Wembley on the line.
Chesterfield were getting some joy getting forward and when Dan Jones latched on to Morsy’s through ball his cut back was fractionally behind Clucas, who had moved more centrally with Banks dropping back in to the advanced three, he got a toe on the ball and Preston eventually cleared.
Arguably the visitors’ best chance of the first half came when Morsy threaded another inch-perfect ball in behind for Clucas to race on to and with just Sam Johnstone to beat the keeper’s trailing leg came to the hosts’ rescue. It proved a costly miss as Preston soon took the lead on the day.
Garner beat Evatt in the air and his flick on was picked up by Beckford, who took a touch under pressure from Hird, and volleyed powerfully beyond Murphy from eight yards out. The goal doubled Preston’s advantage in the leg and put them a step closer to the final just before half-time.
The Spireites almost found an immediate response when O’Shea’s delivery caused confusion in the home side’s penalty box and the ball somehow ended up in the hands of a grateful Johnstone, with Hird closes to it. John Welsh almost put through his own net when attempting to cut out Roberts’ cross.
And from the resulting corner Hird powered a header down and in to the turf only for Gallagher to clear off the line with Johnstone looking on. Chesterfield kept up the pressure after the break and a flowing move from left to right and back again saw O’Shea feed Clucas through, Gallagher recovered in time.
A diving header from Evatt kept Johnstone on his toes, as the Preston keeper clutched the ball out of the air from underneath his own cross bar. Then from nothing more than a punt up field by Beckford on the edge of his own penalty area, Preston struck to put the tie to bed.
Garner beat Evatt to the ball and found Neil Kilkenny charging forward, he looked up and found Daniel Johnson, who had a spell on loan at the Proact earlier in the season, who got a toe to the ball ahead of Murphy and the keeper’s momentum tripped the midfielder up running away from goal.
The referee didn’t hesitate in pointing to the spot but decided not to caution Murphy. Garner stepped up confidently and sent the keeper the wrong way to make it 2-0 and 3-0 on aggregate. The Spireites had a mountain to climb if they were to make it through to the League One play-off final.
They had already come from three down at Deepdale before in September and came close through Ryan’s drive that was deflected around for a corner; O’Shea hit the post moments later when he wriggled free inside the penalty area and pulled his shot back towards goal.
Preston and Beckford would have the final say when he spotted Murphy well off his line and lobbed him from half way. The majority of the 1,628 Chesterfield supporters stayed until the end to salute their side and hope it is no the last time they see Paul Cook in the Spireites’ dug out.
Preston (4-4-2): Johnstone, Clarke (c), Huntingdon, Wright, Kilkenny, Gallagher (Browne 52), Welsh, Johnson (Laird 75), Woods (Humphrey 75), Garner, Beckford. Subs not used: Stuckmann, Davies, Hugill, Robinson.
Spireites (4-2-3-1): Murphy; Darikwa, Hird, Evatt, Jones (Ariyibi 65); Morsy (c), Ryan; Banks (Gnanduillet 64), O’Shea, Roberts (Gardner 80); Clucas. Subs not used: Carter, Humphreys, Raglan, Harrison.
Booking: Evatt (Spireites); Garner, Beckford (Preston).
Referee: Andy D’Urso (Essex).
Attendance: 15,641 (1,628).